Jerry Earle says staffing levels at long-term care facilities in the province are not just at a breaking point. They’re already broken.
But the head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) says he’s at least glad the health minister is showing more interest in the problem.
“We’re not on the eve of a crisis anymore,” he said Monday. “We’re actually in the crisis.”
Earle and other union officials met with Health Minister Dr. John Haggie to discuss the problem after NAPE issued another public alarm about staff burnout — the second since August. The first took the form of a lunchtime protest at Agnes Pratt Home in St. John’s.
“We had a very candid conversation based on information that we’re receiving from frontline health-care providers and, in this case, personal care attendants and licensed practical nurses,” Earle said of the meeting.
In a news release Monday, the health department said the minister has agreed that more data is needed to properly assess the problem.
“The minister has agreed to follow up on the metrics suggested by the union at the meeting to better assess areas of concerns,” the statement said. “These include data on staffing, scheduling and leave.”
Earle said the only records being kept are of workers punching in 24-hour shifts, which doesn’t give the full picture.
“Just this morning I had a call from a licensed practical nurse that had worked the last three 12-hour shifts, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., anticipated getting off at 8 o’clock this morning, but was mandated to stay in her workplace,” he said. “This is a daily occurrence.”
He says workers are telling him it’s the worst year they’ve had. Workplace NL figures suggest injury rates have gone up, and the number of violent incidents is also increasing.
“I’ve been to recent meetings, and so have our staff, where licensed practical nurses and personal care attendants with 20-25 years of service are telling us, ‘I’ve never seen it as bad,’” he said, “breaking down in meetings and crying. You can tell that they’re mentally and physically exhausted.”
Even with a full complement, Earle said, there are not enough workers for the task — and when something like an outbreak of gastrointestinal disease or flu comes along, it gets worse.
“If there’s an outbreak of influenza in a facility, where residents become increasingly ill, there is nothing there to increase the staff.”
Meanwhile, Haggie said he’s aware of the concerns about long-term care.
“These have been heightened even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in the departmental release.
The minister also threw a bouquet to personal care staff who have single-handedly kept residents safe throughout the pandemic.
“Thank you to NAPE’s membership for the exceptional care and compassion provided to residents, particularly during the pandemic. Your kindness, especially when visitation was restricted, made a world of difference for residents and their families.”
Earle said the minister’s acknowledgement is an important first step towards properly investigating the problem and coming up with solutions.
“I think he’s hearing loud and clear that there are concerns.”
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram